Missing voices and possible dialogues: problems and possibilities for teacher education

August, 2019

Source: Teachers and Teaching, 25:6, 684-702

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this essay, the author uses a discursive lens to argue that globalization is now contributing to what and how we know or understand teacher education, what and how we talk about teacher education, and what and how we study it.
She critically examines how the discourse of teacher education has shifted and contributed to a narrowed imagination of what matters in teaching and teacher preparation.
In response to this tendency, she offers examples of alternative ways of imagining the role of the global in teacher education.

New actors and the shifting soundscape in teacher education

New actors exerting influence
Today, it is not only national or state governments defining what teacher education should entail, how it might be organized and evaluated, or even its provision.
There is a growing and increasingly diverse set of actors engaged in international discussion of teacher preparation.
First, international organizations have come to play a new role in the discourse of teacher education. Indirectly through their data collection and reporting practices, they provide a set of tropes about teachers, teaching and teacher preparation.
The OECD, the World Bank, and UNESCO each is shaping how teaching is viewed: in many ways, teachers are seen as the problem to be solved; accountability and measurement can offer solutions (Robertson, 2012).
But governmental and international organizations are not the only newcomers on the teacher education talk circuit.
For example, the corporate consulting firm McKinsey has come to be a major actor through its analysis of high performing countries’ educational systems, where it coined what are now widely quoted lessons about the importance of teachers, teacher recruitment and support, for student achievement (Auguste, Kihn, & Miller, 2010; Paine, 2014; Barber & Mourshed, 2007; Tan, Wong, Fang, Devi, & Gopinathan, 2010).
Teacher education is in this way the newest arrival on the scene of educational institutions and practices which are seen as able to be measured quantitatively, across national difference, and towards a goal of establishing effectiveness and holding systems and institutions accountable.

The repeated motifs of reform calls
The growing global conversation about teacher education, and the increasing number of diverse actors (national, international/intergovernmental, corporate and philanthropic) has meant that teacher education has become what many describe as ‘contested terrain’ (Aydarova & Berliner, 2018).
There are, say some, many different facets of teacher education now open for discussion, presenting a ‘kaleidoscope’ of approaches (Wang, Lin, Spalding, Klecka, & Odell, 2011).
But as many critical observers within teacher education point out, such debate does not in fact mean that they include increasingly dissonant voices in the mix.
There may be a ‘cacophony’ of sounds about teacher education (Wilson, Rozelle & Mikeska, 2011). But given Robertson’s argument about policy ventriloquism, in fact there tends to be a rather small number of key motifs in the global teacher education soundscape.
For the amount of nodding in teacher education’s direction that now is part of an international storyline about education (Barber & Mourshed, 2007; Musset, 2010), it is surprising how little the discussion actually engages the work of teacher education.
The most dominant chord, echoed by policy, corporate, and other voices, is simply the claim that today teacher education must be reformed to respond to the challenges of today’s education.
Indeed, in the increasing global attention to teacher education, amidst the cacophony of voices, perhaps the most frequent line is one that advocates for an ‘evidence- based’ approach that emphasizes ‘accountability’ in teacher education (Zeichner, 2018).
Three broad arguments are threaded throughout the prominent actors’ claims, each focusing on what kinds of teachers teacher preparation should prepare (and much less on how they can accomplish this).

Teacher education for 21st century economy and skills
First, teacher education needs to prepare teachers in ways that reflect the demands of a ‘knowledge economy’, one that, as advocates frequently assert, is now a global economy. Students need to be prepared to enter a new kind of globalized economy, and for that, they need not only mastery of traditional school subjects, but additional skills and dispositions— what now routinely gets described as ‘21st century skills’. From this perspective, teachers are charged with helping their students not only know things (information, subject matter, content, etc.) but to know how to learn (Takayama, 2013; Robertson, 2005).

Teacher education to address increasing diversity
A second theme in the discourses of teacher education is the urgent need for teachers to help students develop the skills to live and work with people different from themselves.
Diversity issues have become a salient concern of teacher education.
No longer is this solely a topic for countries which historically have been shaped by longstanding patterns of immigration (Paine, Aydarova, & Syahril, 2017). Instead, as an OECD report in 2010 suggests, all countries need to make issues of diversity a central thread in teaching and hence a focus of teacher education.
Teacher education to support global competence
A third theme, the least developed in the literature, is the need for teacher education to support the development of young people who are able to live and act as global citizens.
The narrative suggests that students today need to have knowledge of other countries and as well as global systems and institutions; see connections to people outside one’s county; feel empathy and develop global awareness; and be able to act as global systems to support sustainable and peaceful world.
Teachers therefore must cultivate these capacities as well as the ability to support their learners in developing them (Colvin & Edwards, 2018; Mansilla & Jackson, 2011).

Alternatives: bringing in new voices
In each case above, in the argument about what is needed, the claims tend to be made by ‘experts’ about what teacher education should do.
Accountability for success in teacher education is defined by external actors.
The author suggests we consider instead the actions of insiders in teacher education, listening to the voices of teacher educators and their students, to imagine reform possibilities.
In this paper she uses brief examples of how two teacher education programs create their own instantiations of teacher education in a time of globalization.
She sees in what they highlight a promising alternative for teacher learning and perhaps a counter-melody to dominant discourses of reform. In each case, content (of teacher education) and process (of teacher learning) are coupled, something rarely found in recommendations by external agents.
Each is teacher education driven.
Each hinges on reciprocal learning, something never mentioned in the top down prescriptions.
The author argues for the importance of teacher educators as active members of dialogue about how teacher education should be, develop and re-vision itself at this juncture of change in the world, our knowledge of learning, and our goals for K-12 schooling.
The sharing of stories is one potentially valuable means to open up the conversation and expand the repertoire of ideas and recommendations.
As the stories highlighted here suggest, forging reciprocal learning as part of teacher education is a promising way to bring in new and more diverse voices to that work.
It allows us to deepen our understanding of the local in the midst of the global.
It creates the possibility for conceptualizing ‘global’ as not about homogenization but as a process of connection and perspective-taking.
Too often, the discourse of teacher education sees promise and challenge in the wake of globalization, whether for teachers to help a nation be globally competitive or to respond to new demands in the world and in individual societies.
The author sees possibilities for change coming from dialogue among teacher educators.
There have been and will continue to be many forums for such dialogue.
But she also sees the need for a different dialogue, one between the teacher education community and a range of new actors.
As stories, with complex and unpredictable storylines, are shared among this larger and quite diverse group, we might move into a richer set of imaginaries for teaching and teacher development.

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Updated: Aug. 24, 2020